To retreat or not to retreat?

By Glenda LeGendre
BridgeTower Media Newswires

Once a year or so, it’s a great idea to “market” to your own staff and members by holding a firm or de­partment retreat.

This is not a party or family picnic. Rather, retreats combine formal and in­formal working sessions with defined company objectives. In the course of a busy day, month, year, not everyone is an effective communicator with oth­er members of your team, or on board with your company culture.

Retreats improve communications. And in the era of telecommunicating, some remote workers may not even have the in-person experiences they need to develop an organizational syn­ergy.
What can a retreat accomplish and how do you justify the time and cost?

There’s a wealth of evidence that time away from the office can energize a group, build teams, boost productiv­ity, enable more creativity, and help attendees to envision the big picture rather than the narrow focus. Market­ing, sales and creative teams have ad­opted these time-honored sessions to successfully refocus on a client’s work or to brainstorm new ideas.

Retreats also enable leadership to present changes, get staff perspectives, and trigger new ideas. New employ­ees can be better integrated with the long-timers. For lawyers and accoun­tants, you could even piggyback a re­treat activity to follow a professional CLE or trade group event. Knowing ev­eryone’s skills and abilities promotes more effective cross-selling of client opportunities.
Assuming you choose to start with a local day-long retreat activity rath­er than a major trip, how do you plan successfully?

Start by setting goals, determining a budget, and selecting the best time to host it for maximal attendance and the least interruption to the work flow. Schedule the date far enough in advance so there are few excuses not to participate. Attendees should have your draft schedule in advance and a clear idea of your goals for the day.

There are many approaches to plan­ning the retreat, but the location should always be off-site to minimize disruption. Cell phones should be mut­ed, but you should schedule breaks for cell phone check-ins. The day’s activi­ties should be varied, not rushed, and diverse.

Generally, it is good to have the ed­ucational components in the morning sessions and the fun or team building activities following lunch.

Use of a facilitator or addition of a guest speaker on an important topic to the attendees is a good way to start the retreat.

The guest speaker could give a fu­ture view of your industry, overview of a technique or skill set, or conduct pro­fessional training on personal bests, interactive skills, or similar programs.

One of the best programs I incor­porated at a department retreat was working with an expert on “depend­able strengths,” a program that is both interactive and enables your team members to learn what drives each of them and their workmates to be happy and successful in their work.

It’s also good to include a manage­ment and interactive review of the highs and lows of the previous year.

The location can be key to generat­ing excitement and interest. Consider museum tours, waterfront boat rides, the zoo, scavenger hunts and na­ture walks options. Summer baseball games, mini golf etc. are fun in fair weather -- fresh air helps.

If transportation is available, a trip to a local tourist site is well-received. Rope courses and other adventure ac­tivities can be good for those with gen­erally good physical abilities.

A happy hour is almost always pop­ular at the end.

For good planning and marketing purposes, prepare a short and anony­mous attendee survey at the retreat’s end. Suggestions and comments will abound if you do this on the spot, and you should also ask for suggestions for next year’s retreat.

Internal marketing with your team pays off.


Glenda LeGendre is principal of Strategic Marketing and Communications in Baltimore.